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Providing stronger protections for volunteers in State legislation

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Justice Connect and Volunteering Victoria have identified three priority areas of legislation and policy under the State Election Priorities document, for the Victorian Government to provide greater clarity and certainty to the volunteering sector.

READ OUR MEDIA RELEASE ON STRENGHENING LAWS TO PROTECT VOLUNTEERS. 

We seek to work closely with the Victorian Government to explore how legislation affecting volunteers can be improved, in consultation with the volunteering sector. Volunteer-involving organisations should be supported and resourced to adapt to legislative changes and continue to be in line with best practice. 

Recommendation: Work with Volunteering Victoria and Justice Connect on legislative improvements in close consultation with volunteer-involving organisations and other peak bodies.

The following priority areas are on page 4 of 2018 State Election Priorities - Volunteering in Victoria

5.A. Working with Children Check scheme

We acknowledge the work the Victorian Government has already done to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The scheme continues to be challenging for the volunteering sector given variations (and at times inconsistencies) between different jurisdictions. 

Recommendation: The Victorian Government prioritises work towards a nationally consistent scheme which incorporates recommendations in the Working with Children Check Report.

5.B. Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic)

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), volunteering is not included as an area of public life in which discrimination can occur. For the purpose of sexual harassment provisions only, employment includes ‘work on a voluntary or unpaid basis’. As a general principle, equal protection should be given to volunteers in respect of both discriminatory conduct and sexual harassment. There may be a need to consider how best to balance a regulatory burden, if any, against equality before the law. 

Recommendation: Volunteering should be specifically listed as a protected area of public life to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic). Care will need to be taken when amending the legislation. In particular to the definition of volunteering (making sure it reflects current forms of volunteering and other forms of unpaid work, for example, Work for the Dole participants, mutual obligation activities, court-ordered volunteering, work under work and development permits), and to balance the regulatory burden, if any, against equality before the law. Legislative changes should be phased in and the sector should be supported to adapt to changes and responsibilities.

5.C. Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic)

Section 37 of the Wrongs Act states: “A volunteer is not liable in any civil proceeding for anything done, or not done, in good faith by him or her in providing a service in relation to community work organised by a community organisation.” However, it is unclear whether these protections apply to other types of unpaid work (such as Work for the Dole or mutual obligations).

Recommendation: The Act should clarify different types of unpaid work and provide the same protections to other forms of unpaid worker participants, as traditional volunteers. The Victorian Government should also check to ensure that there are alternative (and sufficient) protections for these kinds of unpaid work (e.g. in the same way that emergency volunteers have been excluded as alternative protections apply).

 

Last Updated: 17 October 2018

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